Learning to handle a new breed of ads
Five marketers discuss getting the best from online display, the innovations that are helping to perfect its use and whether talk of it overtaking search are greatly exaggerated.
Mike Hoban, chief marketing officer, confused.com
Georgette Harrison, head of marketing communications, Selftrade
Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, RSA Group
Joel Christie, marketing controller, BSkyB
Nick Futcher, brand manager, Oxfam
Marketing Week (MW): Do you use online display as a tactical campaign tool or do you see this as an ’always on’ form of advertising?
Georgette Harrison (GH): We at Selftrade see it as a combination of both forms, as we have a consistent online presence to help raise awareness and a tactical approach for special offers or specific campaigns. We use it predominantly as a direct-response channel.
Joel Christie (JC): Display performs different roles for various parts of the business at Sky. For acquisition, ’always on’ is the most effective, while for brand marketing or for cross-promoting certain products to customers, it is usually campaign-based advertising. But if you look at Sky as a collective business, which is ultimately how the end user will view it, then display is very much an ’always on’ strand.
It’s vital that our different business units and media agency teams communicate about what ads are being run, where and what roles they are due to play. Obviously, the great facilitator of that is data and understanding our audiences.
Mike Hoban (MH): It’s both tactical and constant for Confused.com. If you’re a direct response business like us, it has to be continuous. The ’always on’ strategy will deliver business for you providing you get the targeting right and constantly optimise performance.
But display, as a support to traditional media, will also build brand awareness, providing you get the coverage right and ensure your creative is something that your audience wants to talk about.
Pete Markey (PM): We haven’t gone down the ’always on’ route with display at RSA Group [which owns the RSA and More Than insurance brands]. I’m a bit sceptical about the effectiveness of online display advertising, so I’d rather keep traditional media ’always on’ and bring in online display when we’re running campaigns.
Nick Futcher (NF): At Oxfam, we use online display tactically as a campaign tool. Our spend is limited and online display enables us to effectively communicate campaigns to our audience in concentrated bursts of activity.
MW: Which other marketing channels best combine with online display and why?
GH: We are using pay per click (PPC), buying both brand and generic terms and we see this as symbiotic, since brand awareness is key to driving brand searches. We also have a sustained presence in personal finance magazines as well as running campaigns in the national press in personal finance and business sections. We see press driving online awareness, although we haven’t been able to correlate this yet.
We are also using Yahoo! as an acquisition tool to drive prospects to our website, as well as driving awareness for any tactical activity. We run a variety of creative in different sizes, and over the year we’ve used a combination of manual and auto-optimisation depending on whether we need to have a tactical weighting for specific ads. The activity is a blind buy across the network on a cost-per-thousand views (CPM) basis and using some targeting.
MH: The reality is that TV still works. Building brands and driving mass awareness depends on broadcast media. Our most successful campaigns use digital media to extend and amplify the TV creative.
NF: Combining outdoor and print works best for grabbing our audience’s attention and engaging them with an issue, then online display picks up the story and takes people to an interactive space where they can act to make a difference.
Additionally, online display offers us the reach we need. For example, we concentrate our outdoor spend in the UK’s South East due to audience targeting, and marketing online gives us affordable and effective national coverage.
PM: Search plays an important role and we make sure we link that to comparison websites that have our best offers available. When you advertise, you have to make sure everything else is the very best it can be. There’s no point in launching an ad and then not having the best insurance offer you can provide. It’s like running a big advertising campaign for a great brand of cereal and then it not being available on the shelves.
MW: What do you see as the biggest innovation in online display?
JC: Measurement metrics are taking a real leap forward and there are some really interesting technologies out there that let us look way beyond the standard impressions, clicks and conversions. We’re working with one creative technology partner that is allowing us to look at the amount of time our ad was on a page and actually being viewed (so not falling below the fold), as well as other new metrics such as ’mouseovers’ on an ad, which suggest a level of engagement above and beyond clicking.
Ultimately, we can match these softer metrics with campaign performance and it gives us a new way of reporting and optimising campaigns both for direct response but also brand activity.
PM: We’re not quite there yet, but for us the biggest innovation will be personalisation so we can better target customers and cut the waste. For example, if we can get to a point where data can be provided so we can run an ad targeted at someone when their car insurance is due for renewal, then online display will be at its most powerful for us. Data is key for this innovation.
“Too many agencies peddle their homespun tales without any basis in fact. You may as well sacrifice a chicken”
MW: How can you use online display to help you tell stories?
NF: Online display offers us reach, impact and ultimately effectiveness. Take our Stop Land Grabs campaign. As land grabs will be a new issue for much of our audience, we want to communicate that land grabs are both real and happening right now. Land grabs mean people lose their homes, the land they grow their food on and for many, their futures.
Online display allows us to get across that message and communicate the feeling of encroachment and intimidation through the advancing bulldozer as well as the sense of loss through the panning image of an evictee looking at his former land. The online advertising complements both the creative look and the reach of the outdoor and press elements of the campaign.
MW: What other experimental marketing are you carrying out using online display?
NF: Oxfam was one of the first advertisers to use Facebook’s engagement ad units this October and we have been continuing to see a strong improvement with the changes we make using Facebook polls. Another experimental success story that we used this year was when we did a Yahoo! Mail ’takeover’ where click-throughs exceeded the target five-fold.
PM: Earlier this year, we ran an ad on YouTube that played like a mini movie and it helped us to get half a million views of our More Than Freeman ad. I think it’s a learning process and you have to keep experimenting to keep it fresh.
Online advertising is wallpaper to a lot of people and you have to ensure that when you do display advertising, it is creative without being intrusive. There’s nothing worse than checking your emails and having an ad take over the page when all you want to do is read your emails. You have to be careful to not become annoying.
MH: Display is still in its infancy in most marketing plans, so everything is always experimental. Test and learn; test and learn; test and learn. If it works, do it again; it if doesn’t, change it or drop it and always be driven by the results rather than some agency theory on what should or shouldn’t work.
MW: What are your biggest frustrations with online display?
MH: Honestly? Too many creative agencies peddling their homespun tales about how something works without any real basis in fact. Talking to some digital agencies is like talking to medieval soothsayers – you might as well sacrifice a chicken!
JC: There isn’t a great deal that keeps me up at night, though it’s slightly frustrating when media owners don’t undertake a partnership. A carefully put together media plan should include media partners to fulfil certain roles that play to their strengths. Media owners should take accountability for that and embrace it as a partnership; those are the ones that I prefer to work with, and generally they deliver better results.
MW: What are the limitations of online display?
GH: Achieving standout in cluttered environments is a challenge. The strict parameters within which financial advertising has to work means space and creative restraints have to be met. There are also budget constraints in using rich media, which limits the options available to produce engaging ads with standout.
MW: Are you using real-time bidding (RTB) where you bid for ad impressions in real time? If so, how?
NF: We’re not using real-time bidding on the current campaign. The campaign plan is specifically placement-driven [using a fixed placement strategy]. This is because of the tactical way we are delivering the campaign – the best possible context for the environment, with the greatest impact positions – which from a format and guaranteed-position point of view, you cannot achieve via RTB.
RTBis great for awareness and direct response, as it is based on audience buying, not media buying – something which despite the tactical strategy we are using for the Land Grab campaign, we do strongly believe in.
The only network elements to the plan [those that could be bought via RTB] is the Google Display Network activity. This is currently bought via a cost-per-click auction model using a blend of managed placements, contextual targeting and retargeting. Maintaining it in this way enables us to be much more brand safe, which is vital, given the context of the message.
JC: RTB is integral to our strategy. It enables us to be far more segmented and target particular audiences which are relevant to particular campaign strands.
When we first looked at this, the possibilities were obvious: seeking out relevant ad impressions and bidding for them, better targeting, reduced wastage and better efficiency. Then it came to actually formulating a strategy for how we approach the space and test its worth. This was initially quite a daunting task.
Once we had a view on the companies we wanted to partner with and trial, we needed to understand the space they were going to operate in. It soon became apparent that choosing partners for how you reach a given audience through the various exchanges is one thing, but without a strategy on who would be able to operate where, it would soon descend in to a free-for-all.
We laid out the exchanges we were going to use and which partners could work within them – this meant that we weren’t inflating our bids by having multiple partners bidding for the same user on the same exchange, and it also made those partners more accountable for the exchange they were allocated.
MW: Are you making online advertising about more than the last click?
PM: At the moment, there’s a debate running within the company about measuring online and we haven’t found the magic answer. We are a results-driven company, so measuring the effectiveness of our marketing matters a lot to us. Measuring the last click does have its virtues but it’s not the whole answer.
JC: This is a hot topic at the moment and there is definitely a desire to get – at the very least – an understanding of what roles different channels play beyond the last-click measurement. We have engaged with providers that can take a holistic view of our activity across all media platforms, and the next step is getting the data back to understand the correlation between the channels. That is easier said than done.
There seems to be a distinct lack of understanding and insight across the market about how to achieve concrete learnings and translate them into a robust strategy.
MW: It is predicted that more will get spent on online display than search by 2015 – do you agree?
JC: The latest Internet Advertising Bureau figures show there’s a difference of about £721m to plug in four years. If you look at the type of companies making up the majority of that spend, it’s entertainment and media companies, finance companies and consumer goods manufacturers. These are companies that tend to have multiple products, sub-sectors or film releases, so would be turning to paid search due to its ability to segment and target niche audiences – something that’s difficult to do with display. However, with the advent of data buys on exchanges and plugging in accurate consumer data, this is becoming a real possibility.
However, first the data buys need to be embraced; second, measurement needs to prove that this is a fruitful strategy; and, most importantly, there needs to be a willingness from brands to undertake this strategy in what is essentially a fragmented and complicated space.
The smaller, more entrepreneurial brands will probably adopt a variation of this approach first, and then it’s up to media owners and agencies to demonstrate a clear success story to the larger brands, who will affect the spend shifts. If I had to make a call on whether it will over take search by 2015, I would say it would just miss out.
NF: Considering that 83% of the UK use the internet, there is a discrepancy between the 58% of UK adults who shop online and the 7% of those who donate to charity online. So I think it’s fair to say that digital advertising is going to remain at the forefront of Oxfam’s advertising. While our expectation is that we will spend more on online display, we’ll be led by effectiveness.
Phil Macauley, regional managing director, Quantcast
Display advertising is undergoing a massive evolution with significant growth in the budgets being deployed online. The emergence of technology is also radically transforming how we buy advertising and our expectations of the performance it should deliver.
Central to this are innovations that enable marketers to make advertising decisions in real time. We’re set to see significant advancement in the performance and effectiveness of display advertising, particularly through the use of real-time bidding (RTB).
Historically, media buying decisions have taken weeks to plan and only encompassed a handful of adverts and a few different media providers. Campaigns were planned at the macro level similar to that of traditional media, such as press and TV.
Today’s addressable media landscape, incorporating RTB, means that marketers can now reach the right person, with the right ad at the right time, maximising their ad spend. This method works at the impression level, with hundreds of thousands of decisions made every second and offers new opportunities for relevance, but requires new solutions and approaches.
The transformation of display advertising is just getting started and in the coming years we will see its performance rival that of search in terms of both ROI and scale.
To gain the advantage that RTB offers means leveraging advanced targeting and building specific and unique audience models for each advertiser and even product, per campaign. This enables advertisers to find and reach a much larger audience that is similar to their best customers.
Quantcast recently partnered with CW Jobs on a campaign where the goal was to acquire as many job seekers as possible in the IT industry.
The company was using multiple providers to achieve this. Using Quantcast Lookalikes, a unique audience model of CW Job’s best job seekers, and our real time targeting capabilities, it was able to achieve three times the volume of conversions of the next best performer on the plan, with a cost per acquisition that was 60% lower.
Display advertising will benefit from real-time technology across the full-funnel, aligning with the business objectives of the advertiser. New technologies have also heralded advances for brand campaigns. Publishers now have better tools to help them to measure, segment and package their audiences and layer targeting on to their content packages to create compelling results for advertisers.